With spring practice finished across the SEC and the long summer ahead of us, we begin turning our attention towards fall with our week-by-week preview of SEC Football. While it's certainly way too early to be able to fully break down these matchups the deeper we get into the schedule, this is simply a glance at what's to come each week in the SEC, and a chance to begin the conversation on some of the non-conference matchups and new games in the rotation this season, as well as the old familiar rivalries.
We begin with the season opening weekend, which for all of college football runs from Thursday, September 3 through Labor Day on September 7. While Miami and Florida State return to Monday Night this season, the SEC will be in action Thursday, Saturday and Sunday on college football's opening week:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
In what should be the only matchup between two top ten teams on college football's opening weekend, Alabama returns to the Georgia Dome, the place where their season truly began and ended last year. The Tide ambushed Clemson in what Chick-Fil-A and Atlanta hope will become an annual SEC/ACC season opening matchup in the Georgia Dome, setting the tone for their remarkable 2008 season that ended with a return visit to ATL for their first SEC Championship Game appearance in nine years.
Virginia Tech is coming off its second consecutive ACC Championship, and will feature the dynamic backfield of QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Darren Evans to compliment their usual lunchpail defense and BeamerBall special teams. This game will be the debut of a new starting quarterback for Alabama, almost certainly Greg McElroy, and a charged atmosphere and the Hokie defense will be an immediate test. Living here just outside of Blacksburg, I cannot stress how much VT fans are looking forward to this one - their last two tests against the SEC were a humbling beatdown at LSU and a blown Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Georgia in 2006. Expect physical football.
OTHER MUST SEE GAMES
Georgia at Oklahoma State
The Dawgs silenced critics who said they never traveled last season and then turned in a convincing win at Arizona State. This one should shape up to be even more difficult, an immediate test for a team learning how to play offense without Stafford and Moreno. Georgia has plenty of depth at both positions, and while Oklahoma State may be talented they won't be highly touted for their defensive prowess alone. They do, however, feature WR Dez Bryant and an explosive offense that will test the Dawg defense. I'm not sure if this is an even matchup or not, but there will be plenty of SEC vs. Big 12 bragging rights on the line.
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
South Carolina at NC State (Thursday)
LSU at Washington
Louisiana Tech at Auburn
Western Kentucky at Tennessee
Ole Miss at Memphis (Sunday)
South Carolina will open the college football season on ESPN once more; the Gamecocks blasted NC State 34-0 in Columbia in last year's opener. Can Stephen Garcia get off to a good start? LSU's date with Washington probably looked a lot better when they signed it than it does now, but you still have to credit the SEC schedule for sending three teams on the road against BCS opponents to open the season and a fourth to a neutral site game. Gene Chizik and Lane Kiffin open their tenures with easier home games (though Louisiana Tech did beat Mississippi State last year in the opener); Western Kentucky was ranked 120th of 120 FBS teams by collegefootballnews.com. And Ole Miss continues their annual opening rivalry with Tiger High, this time featuring a national television audience on ESPN, Sunday afternoon.
THE REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Kentucky vs. Miami OH (Cincinnati)
Western Carolina at Vanderbilt
Charleston Southern at Florida
Missouri State at Arkansas
Jackson State at Mississippi State